By ANTHONY THANASAYAN
Do the authorities really understand the needs of the disabled?
HAVE you had one of those mornings when you wake up and the first thing that you read in the newspapers is a really silly remark that is bound to get everyone upset?
Well, last week was one such occasion.
A front-page story in a local newspaper on April 22 quoted the Welfare Department as saying that Malaysians with disabilities who come under the very poor category wanting aid of RM150 a month won’t be qualified to get it if they have Astro.
The guideline is said to apply even for someone who lives in another person’s house, whether temporarily or otherwise.
In other words, those who came up with such a ruling seem to think that the disabled who can afford pay TV are not poor. And, according to them, welfare aid should only be given to those requiring food, clothing and shelter, and certainly never for entertainment.
This reminds me of a similar situation a few weeks ago that had disabled dog owners howling in protest.
A local council decided against giving disabled residents free dog licences. The reason for doing so was purportedly to “teach the handicapped about the need for administration costs”.
They reckoned that if a disabled person can keep a dog, why can’t he pay RM10 a year?
It makes me wonder how truly in touch are the authorities with what people with disabilities go through daily in their lives, and especially in their homes which are often concealed from the public eye.
Take, for example, a man who became disabled following a car crash a few months ago, and is suffering from depression. Why would he want to learn about processing fees when he is thinking about ending his life?
Becoming paralysed for life is never an easy thing to accept. It is especially hard for those who have been very independent.
Not only does disability rob a person of his dignity to do things for himself, the situation often results in the disabled losing his job as well.
Despite the Welfare Department’s noble efforts in trying to help disabled Malaysians find jobs so that they can be self-sufficient, not many people want to hire the handicapped.
Many people are still bound by negative stereotypes about the disabled. Life is especially hard for the bedridden. Many of them hardly have any opportunity to go out.
Quite a few of them have no one strong enough to carry them out of their beds and back again.
They have to depend on others for everything. Their only “entertainment” is often to stare at the four walls of their room.
For those who have pets, these pets serve to divert them from their depression. By stroking and bonding with their pets, the disabled receive unconditional love and acceptance.
In the area of entertainment, Astro offers the disabled a window to the outside world and keeps them updated on what is happening around the world.
It is important for disabled Malaysians who are locked inside their homes to realise they are not alone in their struggles.
I have watched health shows which offer the latest information on all types of disabilities. Such information is helpful to the handicapped.
Watching how others cope with their disabilities and live positive lives in other countries, helps motivate people with handicaps in our country.
Even the blind “watch” TV. I know many who tune in daily to international news channels on pay TV to keep abreast of news-breaking events around the world.
Isn’t access to information and education also a basic human right? Would the Welfare Department stop aid for disabled people with computers and Internet access as well?
Something is obviously very wrong with the guideline. Instead of appearing to crack down on the helpless disabled poor, the Welfare Department should really be working hard to help all disabled persons in Malaysia to have such facilities.
The department should engage in talks with Astro to provide free subscription to the disabled as part of the company’s social responsibility.
On the day that the article came out, about 20 disabled people in wheelchairs – including me – met up with Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Shahrizat Abdul Jalilf.
She promised us that she would look into the matter and come up with realistic solutions to our problems.
Sources: The Star